sstuwa-skateistan-2011What began as informal skateboarding lessons for local Afghanistan boys and girls, at an empty Soviet-era fountain in Kabul, turned out to be something that would change their lives forever.

The NGO Skateistan began in 2007 and is the first and only skateboarding co educational school in Afghanistan.
Developed by two Australians who arrived in Kabul with their skateboards; they met some local children who were keen to learn to skate.

In the years to come, with assistance from international donors and skate industry partners, Skateistan expanded to a 1750m2 skate park.

The park provides nearly 300 young impoverished boys and girls in Kabul, aged between 5-17 with education and an opportunity to skate in a safe environment.

Of these nearly 200 of the children involved in the program are working on the streets.

"When we started the whole program, the Skateistan project, we had a divide between the street children and better situated children," Deputy Director Max Henninger says. "After six months, we saw that this divide was gone. They kissed each other on the cheek and that's actually what we want. We want to build trust between different Afghan ethnicities, and between foreigners and Afghans."

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The students attend a one hour session per week in the classroom with female and male students in separate classes, a request by the female students.

Skateistan holds classes every day of the week except Friday and also caters for the disabled.

Skateboarding classes are instructed by experienced and international skateboarders as well as some of the first students who attended the school.

Students learn English and gain skills in theatre, art, journalism, environmental health and multimedia.

They produce magazines, posters, theatre productions, photos and videos.

"We're trying to create opportunities for our students, which means we want to educate them through activities we do in the classroom," Henninger says.

During 2010, a student blog was created as an international platform for students to display work.

Various exchanges between the students and youth abroad have also taken place via photos and video.

Many of the young children spend their days working to support their families.

For the young girls in Afghanistan, skating and learning becomes their daily escape.

Skateistan founder/skateboard enthusiast, Oliver Percovich, says the children see a great deal of negativity in their daily lives and he feels it is important to engage these children in something positive and remember that they are Afghanistan’s future.

According to Oliver, if the children do not have positive influences in their lives, “...they will become terrorists...the narcotics trade is huge in Afghanistan, we have to give them alternative opportunities as soon as possible, the way to reach them is through recreation,” he said.

Oliver explained that poor children live a harsh reality and often have no recreation time; school can provide this ‘downtime’ and be a positive way to combine ethnicities across different social classes.

According to UNICEF, an estimated 50 – 60,000 children earn a pittance selling food products and trinkets on the streets, but for fourteen year old Fazila who joined Skateistan three-and-a-half years ago, the NGO has become her employer.

She now instructs other young students and makes up to $170 a month.

"Before I came to Skateistan, I used to think that I wouldn't be able to do anything with my future," she says. "But now I think I will become the best skateboarder."

"My mom wants me to stop working on the streets," she says. "But I still have to, I have to support my family," she says.
In the late afternoon she changes back into her headscarf and heads back into the streets of Kabul, where she cleans car windows for small change, to help her parents support her seven other siblings.

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